An old student and friend of Said’s, Brennan is himself a formidable scholar, having authored numerous books and essays on topics from world literature to Hegel to jazz. But despite his personal relationship to his subject, Brennan quickly recedes into the background, following a short preface ... Previous books on Said have been organized around thematic chapters or individual essays. Without neglecting critical analysis, Brennan attempts to tell something more like a story. What emerges is a remarkably careful and considered narrative of Said’s life from cradle to grave—an account that is both synthesis and corrective ... Riffing on the title of Said’s memoir, which renders an image of the exile as always 'out of place,' Places of Mind turnsinward—to reveal the intellectual center of a seemingly roving career ... Places of Mind takes the task of the intellectual biography to heart: it understands Said’s life by way of his work, and understands his work by way of the thinker at its center. That’s not to say that Said’s thought was uniform. If anything, he recognized and often relished his own contradictions: a critic of Orientalism who was also an Anglophile, a social scientist who was also an aesthete, a radical leftist with expensive tastes. Yet for Brennan, Said was, above all, a literary critic, and the only way to understand him is through reading, well, his literary criticism ... as much an intellectual biography as a kind of literary criticism on literary criticism. In immensely readable prose, Brennan flexes his expertise as one of the world’s leading authorities on Said.
... impressive and rigorous ... The book has its surprises ... For a man with the surname Brennan, this biographer is remarkably silent on Said’s superb analysis (in Culture and Imperialism) of WB Yeats as a foremost poet of decolonisation—of the ways in which Yeats was not only the Irish Shakespeare but also (as Emer Nolan has wittily put it) its Salman Rushdie ... Timothy Brennan has his teacher’s aphoristic gifts ... He captures the lonely integrity of a man castigated as 'a designer Arab' by some of those he did most to defend.
Brennan writes that, though appreciative of efforts to 'diversify faculties in terms of ethnicity and national origin,' Said was troubled by the way Orientalism encouraged 'fixations on personal ‘identity’ ' in academia ... Brennan reports that Said’s 'battle to make the Palestinian story as sophisticated and persuasive as Israeli hasbara' had some small successes ... Besieged for much of his life by 'the superior power of incessantly repeated lies,' Brennan writes, 'he knew he was not going to win.'